They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

1969 film by Sydney Pollack

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is a 1969 film about a disparate group of characters desperate to win a Depression-era dance marathon and the opportunistic emcee (MC) who urges them on to victory.

Directed by Sydney Pollack. Written by Robert E. Thompson and James Poe, based on the eponymous novel by Horace McCoy.
People are the ultimate spectacle.

Rocky Graver

  • I may not know a winner when I see one, but I sure as hell can spot a loser.
  • You know somethin', Turkey? My old man never got out of the fourth grade. When it came to people, he didn't know his ass from his elbow. You know what he was? He was a faith healer. I used to travel the circuit with him. I was the one he healed. I was the shill to get the crowd set up. "Walk, my boy. When I lay my hand on you, you will walk." You will walk. Sodden old bastard. He thought it was him they believed in, but it was me.
  • Here they are again, folks! These wonderful, wonderful kids! Still struggling! Still hoping! As the clock of fate ticks away, the dance of destiny continues! The marathon goes on, and on, and on! HOW LONG CAN THEY LAST?!


Rocky Graver: That's what you were all interested in, isn't it? The show?
Robert Syverton: No, it's a contest. Isn't that what it's supposed to be? Isn't that what you advertised? A contest?
Rocky Graver: Not for them. For you maybe, but not for them. Do you think they're laying out two bits a throw just to watch you poke your head up into the sunlight or Alice look like she just stepped out of a beauty parlor? They don't give a damn whether you win or James and Ruby or Mario and Jackie or the Man in the Moon and Little Miss Muffet. They just want to see a little misery out there so they can feel a little better maybe. They're entitled to that.

Rocky Graver: I have a little notion, kids. Something that could help the show. Something that could benefit all of us and, in particular, could benefit the two of you. And at the same time give the folks out there something to get worked up about.
Gloria Beatty: What are you gonna do? Put us in cages and have them throw peanuts at us?
Rocky Graver: No, all kidding aside...
Gloria Beatty: Who's kidding?

Alice LeBlanc: Somebody screamed.
Rocky Graver: That was you, Alice.

Sailor: If you think about it, cattle ain't got it much worse than us.
Gloria Beatty: They got it better. There's always somebody feeding them.

Robert Syverton: Suppose we did win? What would you do with it?
Gloria Beatty: What, what, what?
Robert Syverton: The money.
Gloria Beatty: Maybe I'd buy some good rat poison.

Nurse: Can I get you something for your feet?
Gloria Beatty: How about a saw.

Rocky Graver: The doctor's decision is: Lillian Kramer stays on in the marathon! The doctor's assured me Lillian just has a slight sinus headache.
Gloria Beatty: Headache. For all that quack knows she's... she's got a brain tumor.
Robert Syverton: No, I don't think so. Only I'm not exactly sure, but I think it's different with a brain tumor. Different symptoms.
Gloria Beatty: Yeah? How do you know?
Robert Syverton: I saw it in a movie. Anita Louise and Richard Cromwell. That's what she died of. Anita Louise. A brain tumor. But it was different. Everything just suddenly got dim for her one day until finally she couldn't see at all. She couldn't even see Richard Cromwell when she kissed him goodbye.
Gloria Beatty: Yeah? And well then she just died?
Robert Syverton: Kind of. She just drifted off listening to her favorite tune. And then she was dead.
Gloria Beatty: No pain or anything? They probably lied.

Gloria Beatty: What is this?
Rocky Graver: Tabs on you and Robert.
Gloria Beatty: You're charging me this?
Rocky Graver: Only if you win. If you don't win, you don't pay. I'm not out to cheat anybody.
Gloria Beatty: Oh, Jesus!

Robert Syverton: [standing outside looking at the ocean] I used to love to look at he ocean, walk by it, just sit and listen to it. Now I don't care if I ever see it again.
Gloria Beatty: That, or anything else.
Robert Syverton: What are you gonna do know? Try in the movies again?
Gloria Beatty: No. I'd never make it. And maybe it wouldn't make no difference, even if I did. Maybe it's just the whole damn world is like central casting: They got it all rigged before you ever show up.
Robert Syverton: I know what you mean. I know just what you mean.
Gloria Beatty: Do you?
Robert Syverton: What are you gonna do?
Gloria Beatty: I'm gonna get off this merry-go-round. I'm so sick of all sticky things.
Robert Syverton: What thing?
Gloria Beatty: Life. And don't give me no sunshine lectures!
Robert Syverton: I wasn't going to.
Gloria Beatty: Then what were you looking at me that way for?
Robert Syverton: I wasn't, I was just tryin to see you face.
Gloria Beatty: Well keep looking. And stick around for the end.
[She takes out a gun and tries to shot herself but is not able to do it]
Gloria Beatty: Help me! Oh please, please!
Robert Syverton: [He takes the gun] Tell me when.
Gloria Beatty: I'm ready.
Robert Syverton: [He holds the gun to her temple] Now?
Gloria Beatty: Now.
[He shoots her]

Policeman #1: Let's go.
Policeman #2: Why did you do it, kid?
Robert Syverton: She asked me to.
Policeman #2: [smirking] Obliging bastard. Is that the only reason you got, kid?
Robert Syverton: They shoot horses, don't they?